Category archive: Carl Edwards

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Sunday's -- or Monday's, or Tuesday's, depending on the weather -- Aaron's 499 may not be a replay of the single-file promenade that kept you dozing and grumbling through the Gen-6 car's debut at Daytona in February.

"It looks like it's going to be a pretty crazy race," pole sitter Carl Edwards said Saturday.

Hold on, you say. Edwards, maybe the hardest-luck restrictor-plate racer of his time -- destroying five cars at Daytona alone this year -- is on the pole at Talladega?

How he got to the top starting spot is interesting enough in itself. Same goes for Martin Truex Jr., who will start second, and Marcos Ambrose, third.

Qualifying was rained out Saturday, and the forecasts call for a 60 percent chance of rain Sunday and 50 percent Monday.

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Martin Truex Jr.
Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty ImagesMartin Truex Jr. says he thinks two racing lines may form at Talladega, unlike earlier this year at Daytona.

Whenever the Gen-6's second plate-race outing happens, the starting order will be determined by speeds in Friday's practice. Because the whole garage area knew the lousy weather was coming, they treated that first practice as "a heat race," Edwards said.

He, Truex and Ambrose managed the quickest runs -- and "runs" is the key word. Runs on one another. That's what may make the difference from Daytona, where drivers just couldn't put together the classic plate-racing scrambles.

"We expected it to be similar to Daytona, but it actually feels quite a bit different, which is interesting," Truex said. "We really don't know what to expect for tomorrow yet. The practicing is never like it is in the race."

There's always a chance drivers will choose to do a ride-around similar to what happened at Daytona -- and which they've chosen to do here in the past, when the rules packages had them baffled.

But in practice this time, "The cars seemed to suck up [to each other in the draft] and get runs a whole lot better," Truex said, "even when we were toward the front of the pack.

"We saw a lot of single-file racing at Daytona," he continued, "but I don't expect the race here tomorrow to be quite that way. It seemed like guys were able to get a lot of runs and make a lot of stuff happen in practice."

"There were definitely more runs than what there was at Daytona, as far as getting more speed to make things happen out there," Ambrose said. "I felt racier than I expected."

How did those three end up quickest?

"It was all about getting in position to get a big run and run a whole lap without having to check up or drag the brake or slow the car down," Truex said. "A lot of guys didn't try to get the big lap. They were just trying to work on their cars for tomorrow."

All in all, "It was like a heat race out there," Edwards said. "We were four wide in practice once -- at least that's what my spotter told me.

"The cars seemed to do a really good job of pulling up and actually passing other cars."

"Actually" passing was what the cars had a hard time doing at Daytona. One could pull alongside another but would seem to stall out in a baffling side-wash of air.

Not enough has changed about the Gen-6 car since Daytona to make a difference -- at least nobody has been caught with any gray-area tweaking of aerodynamics this weekend.

So it has to be the track. Talladega is 2.66 miles to Daytona's 2.5, higher-banked and wider.

"There will be the opportunity to have some bigger packs just because of the style of racetrack and there is more room to maneuver," said Kevin Harvick, who had the dominant car of Daytona Speedweeks, winning both the Sprint Unlimited and his qualifying race before getting wrecked out early in the 500. "What effect, and how big that effect is on this style of racing, is obviously yet to be determined."

"The only thing that is different is this is a wider racetrack," Jeff Gordon said. "You don't have to worry about handling here, where handling was a little bit of an issue at Daytona."

At Daytona, driver skittishness about forming an inside line, at the risk of being shuffled back by the clearly faster outside lane, was the root issue of what amounted to -- hrrmph -- less than a fan-pleaser.

"It certainly could happen," Gordon said of forming an inside line, "and it could have happened at Daytona. It just didn't seem like enough guys really wanted to get organized to do it. They were pretty committed to stay in that outside lane."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who arguably likes Talladega more than any other driver, noted another possible nuance that could help.

"The asphalt has aged a little bit [since the repaving in 2006], and hopefully, it is getting slicker and slicker," Earnhardt said. "Makes actually racing around each other a lot more challenging than it has been lately at the plate tracks."

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Carl Edwards
Jerry Markland/Getty Images/NASCARCarl Edwards, who lost the 2011 Cup championship on a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart, might not even qualify for the Chase in 2012.

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Deep into must-win mode now, Carl Edwards has been doing backflips -- and cartwheels, and somersaults -- all weekend here.

They've been verbal, not physical, but plenty animated. His enthusiasm has gushed for Atlanta Motor Speedway, a track so suited to Edwards and his current dire needs for making the Chase that ... well ...

"If the Lord were to take me from this earth right now, there would be a place in heaven that would look a lot like this racetrack," Edwards said Friday.

He is 12th in points but seventh in the dogfight for that final playoff berth, because he doesn't have a win and five drivers who are behind him in points do.

So he badly needs a win here Sunday night in the AdvoCare 500 (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET), and a win next week at Richmond really wouldn't hurt. But the season has gone fitfully for Edwards' No. 99 branch of Roush Fenway Racing, while teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are first and fourth, respectively, in the standings and comfortably in the Chase.

If his back must be to the wall, "We could not be at a better racetrack," Edwards said. "This track is as good as it gets. Driving practice out there was a blast. I love this place for a number of reasons [e.g., he got his first Cup win here, in 2005], but right now, this is the type of track we need.

"We need a place you can hang the car out. Fresh tires will be faster than old tires [there's still major tire 'falloff' here]. There will be a lot of passing.

"There's definitely three to four and maybe even five grooves out there."

AMS is beloved by the consensus of drivers, not only because it's so wide, so accommodating to running just about wherever a driver chooses, but because of "how wore out this place is," as Dale Earnhardt Jr. put it, "and how the tires go away real fast. It's definitely a different style of racing, something we do less and less of. It's definitely welcome by most drivers out there."

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Tony Stewart
Tyler Barrick/Getty ImagesWhy is Tony Stewart smiling? Because he's sitting on the pole for Sunday's AdvoCare 400.

Jeff Gordon wholeheartedly agreed about the surface, which hasn't been repaved since 1997.

"This place is old, worn out, cracks everywhere, and yet every driver loves it," said Gordon, who made his first Cup start here 20 years ago this fall. "We're slipping and sliding around. The racing is pretty spectacular."

Attendance issues have cut Cup racing back to once a year here, but, "from a surface and pure driving-on-the-track standpoint, I'd like to come here five times a year," Gordon said.

Still, Edwards' verbal handsprings topped the competition of praise, understandably. Room to roam on a racetrack is precisely what showcases Edwards' risk-taking driving style.

"This track is one where you can drive the car sideways, you can take chances, you can burn the tires off for three laps and make it look good and get yourself in a position to do something spectacular," he said. "You could maybe bend that car around the corner a little harder and make something happen if you want to.

"I'm ready for that."

And desperate for that, if he is to make the Chase.

In the matter of Carl Edwards, NASCAR got it right. Goldilocks right. Not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft. Just right.

A meaningless three-race probation is exactly what the situation called for.

What NASCAR had to do was pull off a delicate public-relations maneuver. Edwards' payback bump of Brad Keselowski needed to be acknowledged, what with the public shrieking and eeking over The Flight of the Red Car across half the TV, computer and iPhone screens in America.

It was one of those sensational NASCAR video moments that get the attention of the news networks from time to time.

But Edwards' offense, by the unwritten code as old as NASCAR itself, was a misdemeanor.

My position has been the same since Sunday when I reviewed the video of when Keselowski went upside down at Atlanta after the nudge from Edwards. What I said Monday, on ESPN2's "NASCAR Now" and to ABC News, was precisely what NASCAR president Mike Helton said Tuesday in announcing the formality of a penalty.

Edwards' payback bump of Keselowski was an Edwards issue.

The flight of Keselowski's car was and is a NASCAR issue.

They are separate.

So NASCAR is attending to its own house with regard to the suddenly arisen aerodynamic problem of cars going airborne on intermediate-size tracks, and no longer just the giant restrictor-plate tracks.

Regardless of how the car was launched, with intentional or unintentional contact, the overwhelming issue is to get the cars to stay on the ground. Likely, the return of the spoilers later this month, to replace the misbegotten wings, will resolve the matter.

As for Edwards' probation, anyone who knows NASCAR knows probation is meaningless. But the general public doesn't know -- and they're the ones who needed to be addressed, because when Brad K's car took flight, so did the story, out of control and beyond reason.

So NASCAR publicly acknowledged Edwards' offense, but punished it for what it really was -- as a misdemeanor.

There's no way Edwards, or NASCAR, for that matter, could have predicted that Keselowski's car would go airborne. So there was simply no intent to launch.

Edwards did not cross some line, as has been charged, with regard to NASCAR's licensing of drivers to settle matters among themselves. The flight of Brad K's car made Edwards' action appear to cross some line.

At initial contact, this was routine payback and, under the old code, justifiable payback. And not just because Keselowski had a hand in the wreck of Edwards and Joey Logano earlier in the Atlanta race.

Edwards' grievance was cumulative, and shared by other drivers, dating back to the last Nationwide season, and Keselowski's chronic display of lack of respect for other drivers, and his tendency to crow about it.

"The tougher you race, the more you're rewarded, it seems like," Brad K had said in Victory Lane at Memphis in October after wrecking Edwards and tangling with two other drivers, Justin Allgaier and Mike Bliss.

Wearing that Attitude (with a capital A), Brad K went on to dump Denny Hamlin at Phoenix in November, prompting Hamlin to observe that "there's a lot of guys that owe him."

Keeping his promise, Hamlin spun Keselowski at Homestead-Miami in the Nationwide finale, and that was that.

What Hamlin did to Brad K was what Edwards intended Sunday at Atlanta. Nothing more.

Edwards has caught much heat for retaliating on a high-speed track. Well, Homestead-Miami isn't exactly Martinsville, and there was nothing like this hoopla when Hamlin turned Keselowski at Homestead.

What did surprise me was that Helton denied that NASCAR took into account Keselowski's "body of work," as someone put it, in considering Edwards' penalty.

NASCAR had to see, had to know, that this young driver was as rough as they come -- rougher, maybe, than even the young Dale Earnhardt 30 years ago.

Brad K's peers thought he was getting out of hand, and NASCAR was letting him rip.

NASCAR had told the drivers they could settle things among themselves, and Edwards settled a matter largely on behalf of the garage area as a whole. And NASCAR, much to my surprise, didn't renege on its new policy, even in the face of sensational video.

Good for NASCAR.